Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

Since it started in its current format as the NFL’s main primetime package in 2006, the defining feature of NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the use of flexible scheduling to ensure the best matchups and showcase the best teams as the season goes along. Well, that’s the theory, anyway; the reality has not always lived up to the initial hype and has at times seemed downright mystifying. Regardless, I’m here to help you figure out what you can and can’t expect to see on Sunday nights on NBC.

A full explanation of all the factors that go into flexible scheduling decisions can be found on my NFL Flexible Scheduling Primer, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version with all the important points you need to know:

  • The season can be broken down into three different periods (four if you count the first four weeks where flexible scheduling does not apply at all) for flexible scheduling purposes, each with similar yet different rules governing them: the early flex period, from weeks 5 to 10; the main flex period, from weeks 11 to 17; and week 18. In years where Christmas forces either the Sunday afternoon slate or the Sunday night game to Saturday in Week 16, flex scheduling does not apply that week, and the main flex period begins week 10. Note: This year NBC’s press release indicated that the main flex period begins in Week 11 even though Christmas falls on Sunday. I’m assuming this is correct and the result of NBC still being able to have six weeks in the main flex period despite this because of the expansion of the season.
  • In all cases, only games scheduled for Sunday may be moved to Sunday night. Thursday and Monday night games are not affected by Sunday night flexible scheduling (discounting the “flexible scheduling” applied to Saturdays in December in recent years – see below).
  • During the early and main flex periods, one game is “tentatively” scheduled for Sunday night and listed with the Sunday night start time of 8:20 PM ET. This game will usually remain at that start time and air on NBC, but may be flexed out for another game and moved to 1, 4:05, or 4:25 PM ET on Fox or CBS, no less than 12 days in advance of the game.
  • No more than two games can be flexed to Sunday night over the course of the early flex period. If the NFL wishes to flex out a game in the early flex period twelve days in advance, CBS and Fox may elect to protect one game each from being moved to Sunday night. This is generally an emergency valve in situations where the value of the tentative game has plummeted since the schedule was announced, namely in cases of injury to a key star player.
  • CBS and Fox may also each protect games, historically in five out of six weeks of the main flex period, but all of those protections must be submitted after week 5, week 4 in years where the main flex period begins week 10 (so it is always six weeks before the start of the main flex period).
  • No team may appear more than six times across the league’s three primetime packages on NBC, ESPN, and Fox/NFL Network, and only three teams are allowed to appear that often, with everyone else getting five. In addition, no team may appear more than four times on NBC. All teams’ number of appearances heading into this season may be seen here.
  • According to the league’s official page, teams are notified when “they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.” However, they rarely make this known to the fans, and the list of each network’s protections has never officially been made public. It used to leak fairly regularly, but has not leaked since 2014.
  • In all cases, the NFL is the ultimate arbiter of the schedule and consults with CBS, Fox, and NBC before moving any games to prime time. If the NFL does elect to flex out the Sunday night game, the network whose game is flexed in may receive the former tentative game, regardless of which network would “normally” air it under the “CBS=AFC, Fox=NFC” rules, keeping each network’s total number of games constant. At the same time, the NFL may also move games between 1 PM ET and 4:05/4:25 PM ET. However, this feature focuses primarily if not entirely on Sunday night flexible scheduling.
  • In Week 18, the entire schedule is set on only six days notice, ensuring that NBC gets a game with playoff implications, generally a game where the winner is the division champion. More rarely, NBC may also show an intra-division game for a wild card spot, or a game where only one team wins the division with a win but doesn’t win the division with a loss, but such situations are rare and 2018 and 2020, respectively, were the first times it showed such games. If no game is guaranteed to have maximum playoff implications before Sunday night in this fashion, the league has been known not to schedule a Sunday night game at all. To ensure maximum flexibility, no protections or appearance limits apply to Week 17. The NFL also arranges the rest of the schedule such that no team playing at 4:25 PM ET (there are no 4:05 games Week 17) could have their playoff fate decided by the outcome of the 1 PM ET games, which usually means most if not all of the games with playoff implications outside Sunday night are played at 4:25 PM ET, except for two games moved to Saturday to be simulcast on ESPN and ABC.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Selected game: Kansas City @ LA Chargers.

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Selected game: Green Bay @ Philadelphia.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Selected game: Indianapolis @ Dallas.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Selected game: Miami @ LA Chargers.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Selected game: NY Giants @ Washington.

Week 17 (January 1):

  • Tentative game: LA Rams @ LA Chargers
  • Prospects: Effectively flexed out already with the Chargers now maxed out on primetime appearances without it. The Rams’ surprisingly woeful season has sealed its fate.
  • Likely protections: Vikings-Packers (CBS) and Saints-Eagles, Jets-Seahawks, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Jets-Seahawks still has the major advantage that it’s currently pinned to the late singleheader slot, which is the kind of game the league tends to prefer to flex in (especially when the tentative is also on the West Coast), but it’s lost a lot of luster as both teams have struggled and both are now out of the playoffs. That might just tip the scale to Dolphins-Patriots, though that game is still more likely to affect the Week 18 schedule (though Rams-Seahawks could be a contender for a Saturday move if the standings work out right). Steelers-Ravens, Browns-Maroons, and Niners-Raiders remain dark horses. An intriguing possibility is emerging as a result of the NFC South tire fire: Panthers-Bucs could be for the division lead by the time it’s played… but then, so could Bucs-Falcons the following week.
  • Analysis: If the decision was made today I would definitely still favor Jets-Seahawks; it’s still a game between teams in playoff contention and Dolphins-Patriots is only a game better on one side of the ledger. The problem is that both teams have losable games this week and don’t really look much like playoff material anymore… yet the same could be said for the Patriots, despite them pulling away in the second half against Arizona on Monday. More to the point, barring a crossflex losing Dolphins-Patriots would leave CBS with Steelers-Ravens as their best early game, though the situation isn’t quite as dire as when Eagles-Giants was in a similar situation some weeks back, as the Steelers are at least on the periphery on the playoff picture and Fox has both Browns-Maroons and Panthers-Bucs available in the early window. How the Steelers and Browns do this week may have more of an impact on how much CBS can afford to lose Dolphins-Patriots than on their own games’ chances to be flexed.

    Speaking of Panthers-Bucs, though, it might actually be the biggest threat to the other two, though it may be Fox’s equivalent to Dolphins-Patriots, and I would imagine it would require the Bucs and Panthers to win this week and the Falcons to lose to minimize the potential that Bucs-Falcons could decide the NFC South dependent on the result of Panthers-Bucs. Then again, maybe not; appearing on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” last week, NFL Vice President of Broadcast Planning Michael North suggested that the Week 18 schedule might not be set until after the Bills-Bengals Monday night game in Week 17, and while that likely applies more to the Sunday afternoon slate (which has been held until after the Monday night game in the past) than the Saturday or Sunday night games, it’s not like the league has much of a history of taking that sort of thing into account when setting the penultimate Sunday night game anyway. (Incidentally, in the same “GMFB” appearance Senior Broadcast Manager Charlotte Carey said of the decision to crossflex Lions-Jets to CBS this week, where it’ll be their lead early game, “you don’t want your first time seeing a [playoff] team to be in January.” I may be reading too much into this, but since that statement seemed to encompass both teams, that might not be a good sign for the chances of Jets-Seahawks even if both teams are in playoff position, since then crossflexing Lions-Jets wouldn’t be necessary for that purpose in the Jets’ case. Of course, technically this game would be in January…) If they do want to minimize the chance of needing to wait for the Sunday night game to set, at minimum, the Saturday games (themselves dependent on the Sunday night game), though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull another six-day hold out of their ass, though that would require deferring the decision to either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day when league officials would really prefer not to have to be working.

Week 18 (January 8):

  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Games to watch: Bucs-Falcons, Patriots-Bills, Ravens-Bengals, Lions-Packers, Texans-Colts (stop laughing), Titans-Jaguars, Jets-Dolphins, Giants-Eagles, Browns-Steelers, Cowboys-NotIndians, Chargers-Broncos, Rams-Seahawks. Part of the reason for why this list is so much longer this week is taking a closer eye at what games might be selected for Saturday. I’ve put together the “cheat sheet” I promised last year; let’s see if it helps me put together this section with the percentage chances for each game faster next week.

34 thoughts on “Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

  1. Brian Inman: They would only do so if there were 0 games for the division week 18. With both south divisions, and the AFC North, that’s not the case. It may get flexed to Saturday but if there’s 3 games for the division, that game may be punted to 4:25 PM ET.

  2. Good scenarios. When you mentioned about the potential flex of Packers vs lions game at Green Bay 3:25 pm week 18 regarding playoff implications, you’re likely talking about that on Fox tv channel, yes?

  3. Updated repost:

    Week 15: I was right about Giants-Commanders as it’s NFC East.

    Week 16 doesn’t have a flex. This is where the NFL should have had the bulk of the games on Monday, December 26 (day after Christmas that is the actual legal holiday for such) though as noted I suspect the station managers of FOX affiliates objected to that due to their having numerous pre-emptions during the World Cup in November and December and the syndicators of shows that normally air on FOX stations in the daytime probably made clear they could not pre-empt for NFL games on 12/26 since the week of 12/26-30 likely is re-airs of shows that first aired during the World Cup pre-empted by FOX affiliates. Otherwise, it would have set up for ESPN/ABC to have a flex that Monday night. If the Christmas Eve slate had been played the day after Christmas instead, we likely would have seen Texans-Titans (CBS at likely 2:00 PM ET) and Eagles-Cowboys (likely on FOX at 5:30 PM ET) be standalone games on Christmas Eve due to the Titans hosting the Cowboys the following Thursday. That likely also would have meant Raiders-Steelers would have been a 4:30 PM Christmas Day game on NFL Network and the Packers-Dolphins and Broncos-Rams games moved to Monday 12/26. Giants-Vikings likely would have been protected by FOX with Bengals-Patriots the most likely game to be flexed to MNF in that scenario.

    Week 17: We know Rams-Chargers MUST flexed out because the Chargers are maxed out on appearances with their being flexed in to Week 14 against the Dolphins.

    Jets-Seahawks right now still looks to be the favorite to be the Sunday night game on New Year’s Night. Dolphins-Patriots is the next most likely for New Year’s Night IF the Pats can get their act together. Vikings-Packers has become a longshot possibility if the Vikings lose again next week as they suddenly could be in danger of losing the #2 seed to the 49ers. Also a longshot is Panthers-Bucs, which would likely be Tom Brady’s final regular season home game in Tampa. The Panthers beating the Seahawks on Sunday could make that trainwreck of a game New Year’s Night SNF.

    Week 18: With the Eagles destroying the Giants Sunday, the Lions beating the Vikings, the Jaguars going into Tennessee and beating the Titans AND the BUCS getting destroyed by the 49ers, there could be some VERY interesting scenarios for Week 18, especially if the Packers can run the table before then.

    If the Lions are alive for the last wild card going into the final week of the season, their game in Lambeau against the Packers is likely the 4:30 PM ET Saturday game as I think the Pack, even if THEY have nothing to play for would be up for this game with the chance to play spoiler and extract revenge for earlier this season. Giants-Eagles is less likely because there is a good chance the game means nothing to the Eagles, who may have the #1 seed wrapped up, especially if they beat the Cowboys Christmas Eve.

    Ravens-Bengals looks like the other Saturday game right now as that could be a game that may or may not matter to the Ravens but could matter win or lose to the Bengals as it could be in play for the #2 seed in the AFC.

    As for Sunday Night Football, if the Jags beat the Cowboys next Sunday and then beat the Jets a week from Thursday, they may be in position to actually win the AFC South as they have the Texans in Week 17. The Jags just beat the Titans in Nashville on Sunday, and that rematch could be Game 272. That would be remarkable since the Jags were left for dead earlier this year and have been awful before this season.

    With the Bucs losing Sunday as they did, it opens up Falcons-Bucaneers for the final Sunday night game in Atlanta as that also could be a winner-take-all for the NFC South.

    NBC may have its choice of trainwreck finales for SNF (Titans-Jaguars or Bucs-Falcons).

  4. And again I forgot as that the Bengals are playing Monday night as the above was a cut-and-paste. I still see it possible Ravens-Bengals could be 8:15 PM ET Saturday because the Bengals are at home in BOTH Weeks 17 and 18 whereas the Ravens have to travel for Week 18 that likely negates any advantage the Ravens would have with five days rest as opposed to four.

    One thing that many may not remember: I believe before the then-Tennessee Oilers became the Titans in the late 1990’s, the then-Oilers played on Thanksgiving in Dallas and then played the following Thursday in Cincinnati against the Bengals, who were playing that game on THREE DAYS REST having played the prior Sunday. The Bengals, playing at home WON that game easily and some in the NFL may remember that and that’s why I can’t rule out Ravens-Bengals for 8:15 PM ET Saturday (obviously, if it’s for the AFC North that becomes SNF). If the Bengals are ineligible to play Saturday, THEN Jets-Dolphins looks to be in that slot as I believe they have to have one AFC and one NFC game on Saturday.

  5. Week 17: If the Bucs lose and the Panthers win, Panthers-Bucs will be SNF. Tom brady and the bucs are good for ratings as well.
    Pats-Dolphins will be SNF if the above scenario doesn’t happen. The Pats have a decent chance to beat the Raiders, and the dolphins will be above .500 no matter what by the time flexes for week 17 are announced.
    Jets-Seahawks has lost lots of its luster in these past weeks and with their respective schedules, its not overreacting to say both teams will be 7-8 by week 17
    Week 18:
    My Saturday and Sunday picks are:
    4:30 PM ET: Titans-Jags
    8:15 PM ET: Bucs-Falcons
    10:00 Texans-Colts
    10:00 Browns-Steelers
    10:00 Vikings-Bears
    10:00 Panthers-Saints
    10:00 Giants-Eagles
    10:00 Lions-Packers
    1:25 Boys-Commies
    1:25 Cardinals-9ers
    1:25 Seahawks-Rams
    1:25 Jets-Dolphins
    1:25 Broncos-Chargers
    1:25 Chiefs-Raiders
    5:20 Ravens-Bengals

  6. Walt: If Bucs-Falcons is for the NFC south, that will be SNF. Ravens-Bengals will be SNF if they have to choose between that and titans-jags

  7. I agree with you, Isaiah. I’ll make predictions which Packers games will be on CBS with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo announcing next season.
    1. Packers vs. Chiefs at Lambeau Field
    2. Packers vs. Vikings at Lambeau Field
    What do you think of my predictions, Isaiah?

  8. Isaiah:

    Still think if Titans-Jags is for the AFC South they would take it as it would be the first Sunday night game for Trevor Lawrence in what essentially would be a playoff game.

  9. Walt: The only way Titans-Jags is Week 18 SNF is if Ravens-Bengals ends up being not for the division/for the division but both teams clinched wild cards and the nfc south being decided by the end of week 17

  10. Though it’s only half, looks like the niners are gonna win, which gives them the division and lowers the chance of jets Seahawks being SNF. But it’s only halftime, and anything can happen

  11. Update:
    Week 17: Panthers-Bucs is still looking like the front runner for SNF barring the panthers losing or the bucs winning.
    Pats-Dolphins has firmly moved into second in line for SNF week 17 with the Seahawks losing.
    Jets-Seahawks probably won’t make it to Week 17 SNF because the flexes have to be announced Monday and the hawks probably won’t beat the chiefs week 16.

  12. With the 9ers beating the seahawks, I don’t think jets-seahawks is going to get flexed in.. Both teams could easily be 7-8 at the time of that game which NBC would not want in week 17 (I do think the jets will win one of their next two home games vs. Jags and Lions).
    NBC is going to want to have a team (or two) that is guaranteed to be in playoff position for their week 17 SNF Game. I am going to go bold here and eliminate the jets-seahawks matchup from SNF, I am quite confident but don’t clown me if I’m wrong lol
    Dolphins-Patriots will definitely have one or both teams in playoff positioning, and if the dolphins fall to 8-7 or 9-6 and the patriots are also 8-7 or 9-6, it might be a win and you’re in, lose and clinch week 18 sort of game. I will say that if the patriots and packers win this week, this game will move to SNF as CBS will be fine keeping Vikings-Packers in their late window.
    If the above doesn’t happen, watch out for this scenario: if the panthers win and falcons lose, the panthers-bucs week 17 game is guaranteed to have major playoff implications (worst case scenario bucs 8-7 panthers 6-9, bucs would clinch if they win, panthers would sweep and be a game back with the tiebreaker). The falcons losing assures that the division will most likely be a race between those two teams.
    If neither happens, nbc might be screwed but we know for a fact that they’re not keeping rams-chargers. I personally think dolphins-pats gets priority but panthers-bucs could be a very real option for SNF. As much of a cool story it would be to see the Jets and Seahawks on SNF in week 17 (imagine telling you that at the beginning of the season, over rams-chargers!) I don’t see it happening.

    Anyone else agree that jets-seahawks is basically out of the mix at this point?

    Week 18 still impossible to predict but I think 75% chance that ravens-bengals is for the division so that will be SNF. I also could see titans-jags being for the division as well, suiting up for the late Saturday game. The early saturday game might be an NFC play-for-seeding or win-and-get-help-tomorrow sort of game like lions-packers or cowboys-commanders if they both already clinch.

  13. You have to wonder if with the bulk of the games that matter in Week 16 being on Saturday rather than Sunday, even if it means waiting until Christmas Eve to announce it would the NFL do an eight-day flex, waiting until after the 4:25 PM ET games Christmas Eve to announce the Week 17 Sunday nighter? It may in this case be worth doing.

  14. Walt: They’ll probably announce week 18 flexes after Monday night because Ravens-Bengals probably will be for the AFC North

  15. Isaiah:

    I was talking about Week 17, NOT Week 18.

    It may be in everyone’s best interest to wait until AFTER the Christmas Eve (Saturday) games in Week 16 before announcing SNF for Week 17. Might inconvenience some but it lessens the chances NBC is stuck with a bad game in Week 17.

  16. Repost from prior thread:

    Hello NFL SNF Flex Scheduling lovers,

    Here’s my take on things after Week 14.

    Main Flex period:

    Week 16 – scheduled game is: T.B.(6-7) @ Ariz.(4-9) <— can't be flexed, as it's set in stone due to being on Christmas, but yuck!

    Week 17 – scheduled game is: L.A.R.(4-9) @ L.AC.(7-6) <— this will be flexed out

    My choices are few:

    #1 – Mia(8-5) @ NE(7-6)
    #2 – NYJ(7-6) @ Sea(7-6)

    My choices between these 2 flipped after Week 14's games. Because Dolphins/Patriots got closer in record and both stand a good chance to win this week. Also, because Jets/Seahawks both lost last week.

    Week 18 – no scheduled SNF game and 2 games moving to Saturday

    N.E.(7-6) @ Buff.(10-3) <—can't move to Saturday and likely wouldn't anyway because of the Pats needing to play at the same time as other teams in the playoff race. My #3 choice for SNF at the moment
    N.Y.J.(7-6) @ Mia.(8-5) <—my #2 choice for SNF at the moment….it also has a chance to be a win and in & lose and out game
    Balt.(9-4) @ Cin.(9-4) <—can't move to Saturday, but it's my current #1 for SNF. It's possible that this game determines who's the 3 seed and who's the 5 seed and no other seeding possible. If that ends up being the case, then this game is a lock to be game 272 on SNF.
    Clev.(5-8) @ Pitt.(5-8) <—not looking like a move to Saturday would be in the cards anyway
    Hou.(1-11-1) @ Ind.(4-8-1) <—not a good Saturday game candidate
    Tenn.(7-6) @ Jack.(5-8) <—this might matter for a Saturday game after the Jaguars beat up the Titans this past Sunday
    L.A.C.(7-6) @ Den.(3-10) <—not a good Saturday game candidate
    K.C.(10-3) @ L.V.(5-8) <—not a good Saturday game candidate
    N.Y.G.(7-5-1) @ Phil.(12-1) <—looking good to be a Saturday game, but if the Giants have to play at the same time as others because of playoff seedings….my current #5 for SNF
    Dal.(10-3) @ Wash.(7-5-1) <—starting to gain on potentially moving to Saturday and quickly!….unless the Commanders need to play at the same time as others fighting for the last playoff spots….my current #4 for SNF
    Minn.(10-3) @ Chi.(3-10) <—not a good Saturday game candidate
    Det.(6-7) @ G.B.(5-8) <—not a good Saturday game candidate
    T.B.(6-7) @ Atl.(5-8) <—could be a dark horse for SNF, as it could become a win and in, lose and out game……..reminds me of Rams/Seahawks on SNF years ago as a clown show win and in and lose and out game…..though Panthers could muck this up, as they could be the one that is closest to the Bucs going into Week 18……possible Saturday game
    Car.(5-8) @ N.O.(4-9) <—not a good Saturday game candidate……if the Panthers keep winning, then…who knows about landing on Saturday afterall…..maybe 2 NFC South games on Saturday
    Ariz.(4-9) @ S.F.(9-4) <—not a good Saturday game candidate
    L.A.R.(4-9) @ Sea.(7-6) <—not looking good to move to Saturday

    Remember, due to Buffalo and Cincinnati playing on MNF in Week 17, they will not be able to play on Saturday in Week 18.

    As I said last season, the NFL did itself no favors by adding the 2 Saturday games to the Week 18 schedule.

  17. From the tea leaves, I hear that in Week 17, for SNF, that Dolphins/Patriots is getting looked at. Jets/Seahawks was too, but with Seattle’s loss on Thursday, it’s looking less likely. And yes, if circumstances work right, then Panthers/Bucs is in the mix too.

    And yes, those same tea leaves, are saying that the usual 12 day window to declare the Week 17 SNF and full slate might be pressed to end of Week 16 instead of the usual Week 15.

    As I write this, the Colts are smashing the Vikes 23-0 with just over 7 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, so it might be a very interesting Week 15.

  18. Jeff: The NFL probably is having a 6 day flex window so that they might not be screwed if they did the normal 12 day flex. Also the Colts leading aged like milk.

  19. If Jeff is right, the NFL will probably operate a 6 day flex for week 17 to be more sure in what they will choose for week 17 SNF

  20. Actually an eight-day window since the bulk of the games are on Saturday in Week 16.

    I noted above that’s how I would do it. It would be a pain to do it on Christmas Eve, however, it may be in the NFL’s interests to wait until at least after the 4:25 PM ET games Christmas Eve before deciding.

  21. Walt: They should wait until after the Christmas night game because if they do that, they could get more games to choose from for week 17 SNF

  22. Week 17: Panthers-Bucs will be SNF if the Bucs lose, or the Panthers win. Even if the Saints won against the Browns & Eagles, if the panthers win against the Bucs, Panthers-Saints could be for the division.

    Pats-Dolphins will be SNF if the Pats win, and the above scenario doesn’t happen. If they lose, the Jets-Jags winner will overtake them, making it to where the Dolphins would still be in the playoffs even if they lost against the Pats.

    Saints-Eagles will be SNF if the Bucs and Panthers lose, the Saints win, and the above scenarios don’t happen. The Saints would be tied for first place come Week 17 in this scenario facing a very good eagles team.

    Jets-Seahawks will be SNF if both teams win week 16, and the above scenarios don’t happen. This one is a longshot because the Jets are playing the Jags, and the Seahawks are facing the Chiefs, which could very well mean that both teams come out of week 16 7-8. Also, there’s a chance that neither team is in the playoffs come week 17.

    Week 18: Bucs-Falcons will be for the NFC South if the Falcons win out all games before Week 18, the Bucs beat the Panthers, and the Saints drop a game.

    Panthers-Saints will be for the NFC South if the Saints win out prior to week 18, the Bucs lose out, and the Falcons drop a game.

    Titans-Jags will be for the AFC South if:
    The Jags go winless the next 2 weeks & the Titans do the same
    Win once the next 2 weeks.

    Ravens-Bengals will be for the AFC North if:
    The Bengals go 2-0 the next & so do the ravens
    The Ravens go 1-1 & the Bengals do too.
    The Ravens go 0-2 alongside the bengals

  23. There is no single football fan outside team supporters who wants to watch NFC South games this year.
    I hope NFL will do anything to avoid those in prime time both week 17&18. Even Jags &Titans looks much better.

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